January 14, 2021: The World Economic Forum, in partnership with Pure Earth, the ILA and the Responsible Battery Coalition, in December released a white paper to address ‘the safe and environmentally responsible management of LAB recycling’.
The paper comes five months after a July report by Pure Earth and UNICEF, The Toxic Truth: Children’s Exposure to Lead Pollution Undermines a Generation of Future Potential, which claimed lead poisoning in children was much more widespread than had previously been documented.
“Unfortunately, the mismanagement of LAB recycling around the world has dire consequences, despite evidence in North America and Europe that the risks can be managed by adopting effective control measures that limit lead exposures,” says Mathy Stanislaus, director ad interim of the Global Battery Alliance.
The main issue to address is the informal or ‘otherwise unsound’ recycling sector, and the white paper recommends a number of options to deal with that, such as implementing national policies to give battery producers responsibility for the disposal of ULABs; battery deposit systems and tax subsidies; establishing regulations around recyclers permitted to supply battery makers; setting up regular monitoring of facilities; identifying contaminated sites; and improving education.
One suggestion is to create alternative livelihoods for informal ULAB recyclers such as formally collect and sell ULABs rather than carry out their operations even further underground, says the paper.
Facilities should also be relocated to industrial estates, away from residential areas.
“Nevertheless, informal ULAB recycling is never safe. If a relocation strategy is implemented, it should only be viewed as a temporary risk-reduction measure on the path to more systemic changes that keep ULABs within the formal supply chain,” says the paper.
The paper says worldwide there are between 10,000 and 30,000 informal ULAB recycling sites, and that “the task of addressing this global crisis poses a formidable challenge that will not be met overnight.
“To make this sustainable, government action is needed to implement legislation and set and enforce standards that properly regulate the safe manufacture, usage and, most importantly, smelting of LABs,” the paper concludes.
The paper was co-written by Brian Wilson and Steve Binks from the ILA; Andrew McCartor, Richard Fuller and Karti Sandilya from Pure Earth; Steve Christensen from the Responsible Battery Coalition; and Mathy Stanislaus, Jonathan Eckart and Eleni Kemene from the Global Battery Alliance.